Beyond Liberal Education

Liberal education is the practice of teaching students a little something from each of the major scholastic fields, giving them a solid grounding in all disciplines. This practice dates back at least to the times of ancient Greece where the citizens concerned themselves with philosophy, the arts, and maintaining physical perfection. The manual labor of the period was performed by the slave caste who did not need an education to carry out their tasks. Today, that same tradition has been passed down to the American education system where, throughout their school career, students are expected to master an astonishing array of topics.

As human beings, we need to stimulate all aspects of our being, and our lives should include a full spectrum of knowledge and experiences. Liberal education is not so much about teaching a specific set of topics as about giving each student a way to express themselves, both in school and throughout the rest of their lives. Children should not be expected to know what they want to be when they grow up because they have not had time to explore all of the possibilities that are available to them. Even most college students have not yet found their niche and need more experience before deciding on a career. Liberal education gives students a chance to explore the world around them and discover how they are exceptional.

Liberal education can be a waste of scarce resources, spending time and energy teaching topics which the students will never use once they have graduated. Social workers do not need to know higher math, physicists should not have to learn to paint, and a gymnast has no need to take writing classes. If the goal of education is to produce useful and intelligent citizens, this can be accomplished without spending so much effort on skills that will lay forgotten as soon as they are learned. One of the secrets to the success of our modern society is specialization, which allows each person to focus on a single skill or task. Liberal education takes the opposite tact by encouraging everyone to become a generalist. Our education system would be better off if students picked a vocation and were able to focus on it without distraction.

Public education is designed to give each student a chance to grow into their greatest potential. Providing a liberal education to students in their younger years gives children options that their personal life experiences may not have prepared them for. When I was in kindergarten, my view of the world was fairly limited, and it was my dream to grow up and become a mail lady, driving around in that sweet little car and delivering letters. As I grew older, I was exposed to the rest of the wide, wide world out there and left my dreams of being a postal worker far behind. Once a student has reached a certain point in their education, they have a fair idea of what they are good at, and in what scholastic direction they want to pursue. Once this decision is reached, the student should be allowed to skip out on the advanced topics that are of no interest or relevancy to their future careers. The current public education system keeps a focus on liberal education far beyond the point where it is useful and necessary.

Both sides of this argument are concerned with giving students the best education possible. This can be achieved by moving beyond liberal education, and allowing students to steer their own futures.


For summer term I've been taking it easy with a ceramics class!  Below are pictures of a few of my pieces:

The Book was Better

Every year dozens of books are made into successful movies. As popular as these movies are, there are always fans of the book who proclaim that, ‘the book was better.’ Is the book really better, or is this claim merely the opinion of enthusiastic fans who would rally behind their book under any circumstance?

What is it that makes novels better than their movie adaptations? Books are longer, which allows the plot to be more intricate and the characters to have greater depth. Novels do not have a special effects budget, and so the story can develop without the constraints of a movie production. Reading is also a form of active entertainment, and the reader must engage in the story in order to gain anything from the experience.

Movie adaptations are notorious for cutting and merging characters or storylines to keep things less confusing for movie audiences. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was approximately 198 thousand words long, which should take an average reader about 13 hours to read. Even after splitting the book into two movies, the adaptation only hits 4 and a half hours of screen time. The book would have to be made into five or six movies in order to match the same complexity of the novel.

Movies very rarely allow audiences to hear the thoughts of the characters for fear they will appear insane to the audience. This is a primary tactic in novels for creating character development as well as giving the reader a glimpse into what makes the character tick, what makes them more than a hired thug or vanquishing hero. Character development becomes flatter and one dimensional when adapted to the screen. Instead of looking at the world from the eyes of another person, movies are limited to watching the characters and stories unfold as a mere spectator.

A popular trick in movies and television is to keep a character off-screen in order to let the viewers use their imagination, which can create something more grotesque or beautiful than any CG or makeup artist can replicate. Novels do the same, but with every character and in every scene. For example, in The Family Tree by Sheri Tepper, the true natures of the main characters are not revealed until halfway through the book. In a movie version, this would be impossible! Scene one, and the surprise would be spoiled.

The written word can control story exposition with precision, telling only exactly what is needed and when it should be told. Movies are severely limited in this regard. In a book, each reader creates an experience that is unique to themselves and their personal experiences. In a movie viewers are limited to one version of the story, that of the producers and directors. Even the most faithful adaptation falls short because it can only reproduce one interpretation of the words on the page.

George R. R. Martin began writing his popular fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire after becoming discouraged by the limitations placed on his stories in order to show them on screen. ‘I’m sorry, we don’t have the budget to do something that cool,’ isn’t a recipe for an amazing entertainment experience. When writing, special effects are free. Dragons, massive armies, exploding planets, all are free of charge for the author. The same cannot be said of movies, and it shows. The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende features a stunning array of fantasy worlds which is hardly even touched on by the movie version.

There are some exceptions, notably short stories where the movie can match the length of the original; children’s picture books on which the movie can expand and the visual interpretations are already in place; and finally, books that were less than stellar. It’s entirely possible to make a movie out of a terrible book and have it turn out better than the original. Of course, what makes a book or movie terrible is subjective and depends on personal taste.

It all comes down to the fact that novels have greater potential than movies to spin a mesmerizing story. All the special effects and good acting of even a great movie can’t compete with what is possible through the written word and the human imagination. If you read the original novel that one of your favorite movies was adapted from, chances are you’ll agree, the book is better.